the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House

Remarks By The Vice President To The Assembly Of Kosovo

Office of the Vice President
                                  For Immediate Release       May 21, 2009                                                 
New Government Building
Pristina, Kosovo
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much for the privilege and the opportunity to address the Kosovo Assembly in such a beautiful, beautiful setting.  I congratulate you on your work thus far and I thank you for your very, very generous welcome.
It's a privilege to return to your country.  And although I am a few months late, let me say happy birthday on your one year anniversary.  (Applause.)
And Mr. President, let me thank you for one of the greatest honors of my career of being awarded the Medal of Freedom.  I accept it on behalf of the American people.  I do not deserve it, but my country -- my country appreciates your gratitude for what we have attempted to do.
I look out and see some familiar faces -- and I say I had some concern that the day would arrive when I would be able to stand before a free and undivided Kosovo and address you all.  You've done remarkable things so far.
I've traveled this region many times as a United States Senator, but this is my first trip as Vice President of the United States of America.  In the past two days I've been to Bosnia and to Serbia.  Our Deputy Secretary of State, Jim Steinberg, just visited Macedonia and Montenegro.  Our purpose is straightforward:  It's to underscore the commitment of the Obama-Biden administration to the stability and progress in the Balkans; and to reaffirm that the policy of the United States is to seek a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.
The road to Kosovo's independence was difficult, and I need not tell you, hard-earned.  Your journey included a brutal campaign of fighting through a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Slobodan Milosevic, and NATO's intervention to stop it.  It included nearly a decade of U.N. administration and determined diplomacy by the United States and our partners in Europe that resulted in the plan that you are following to this day.
We know -- we know as you do that your task is enormous.  We also believe you are fully up to the task.  You have many friends and partners, including the United States, determined to see you succeed.  Kosovo's independence was and remains today, in my view and the view of my government, the only viable option for stability in the region.  And your independence, as I've said in the countries I've visited, your independence is irreversible -- absolutely irreversible.  (Applause.)
The success of an independent Kosovo is a priority for our administration and for my country, and a key element in our policy of helping the nations of the Western Balkans finally and for the first time of all history be fully integrated into Europe.  Sixty countries from all parts of the world have now recognized the Republic of Kosovo.  We're pleased that Saudi Arabia recognized Kosovo.  We hope that other countries will soon follow suit.  We are urging them to do so.
Kosovo's recent admission in the International Monetary Fund is further evidence of the international community's acceptance of the reality of an independent Kosovo.  And it stands ready -- we stand ready, we all stand ready to support you in building your state and putting the entire region of Southeast Europe on a stable foundation.
In your first year of independence your President and Prime Minister have in my view provided courageous -- courageous and steadfast leadership.  I salute the both of you, and I mean that sincerely.  (Applause.)  My country -- my country as well as yours, in my view, owe you a great debt.  And I commend the members of the Assembly, including the members of the opposition, for your service.  All of you play a vital role in the legislative process, a key component to any true democracy.  Having been a legislator for 37 years, I appreciate how important you are.  And I congratulate all of you on the steps you've taken thus far to build a multi-ethnic democracy at peace with its neighbors.
You've adopted many laws, including 50 mandated by the Ahtisaari plan.  You've built roads and schools, established ministries of government from scratch, from the very beginning -- agencies that didn't exist before.  You've reached out to your neighbors and strengthened your diplomatic ties all around the world.  And you continue to do so.  All in the course of one year.  It's remarkable.
Your hard-earned success has demonstrated to the world that Kosovo’s democracy and its independence are a force for regional stability and that you are here to stay.
But there's still so much more to do, and your people have high hopes and expectations for you and for all of us.  I must say my heart was warmed as I came from the landing zone into town, with what appeared to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people lining the street welcoming a United States representative.  As a friend of Kosovo and as a representative of my country that has invested much in your success, permit me to express our hopes -- our hopes and expectations with regard to your future.
First, we urge you, we implore you to continue to build strong institutions that embody the values enshrined in your declaration of independence and your constitution.  The effectiveness and transparency of these institutions will be critical -- critical -- to the credibility of your government in the coming months and years.
Press ahead with full implementation of the Ahtisaari plan, including measures that will give municipal authorities and ethnic communities greater degrees of control of local affairs.  Continue to build on your record of free and fair elections.
And secondly, the economic and financial challenges facing your country are significant.  These times demand fiscal and budgetary discipline, as well as careful stewardship of the assistance provided by the international community.  To build an economy that can compete in the 21st century all nations, including Kosovo, must create a welcoming and transparent business climate that attracts investment and creates jobs -- jobs your young people so sorely need.
Third, strengthening the rule of law must remain your priority.  Do not let up in your efforts to eliminate corruption and tackle organized crime -- a problem for all emerging new states.  And continue -- continue to streamline and strengthen your judiciary, a backbone of every democracy.  And adopt and enforce effective laws that will help move your country into the European mainstream.
Your government is keeping to its pledge to close and full cooperation with the EU rule of law mission.  The United States is proud -- presumptuous of us to say it, but we're proud to participate with EULEX, which is working to foster professional and multi-ethnic customs, courts, police structures in Kosovo.  EULEX has responded quickly and effectively to stop violence and provocation as we have seen in recent days in Kosovo's north.
Fourth, as a leader of a nation born from conflict as mine was, and yours is, you have a special responsibility to overcome the legacy of division, bitterness, and fear and mistrust within your country.  It's essential that the majority continues to reach out to Kosovo's Serb community, to build a dialogue and establish strong protections for that community and for other non-majority communities.
You must also make every effort to improve the conditions for the return of displaced Serbs and members of others communities to their property and their homes throughout all of Kosovo.  It's an essential ultimate condition to a free and open society.  And we urge you -- we urge you to preserve the rich cultural heritage in your country, and in particular to safeguard religious freedom in a very important role on the Serbian Orthodox Church for Kosovo's Serb community.
Later today I will visit a Decani monastery, an important symbol of the power of unity.  During the fighting a decade ago and following the tradition established at its founding eight centuries ago, the monks there -- and this will be my second visit; last time during the war -- the monks there sheltered refugees from the war regardless of their ethnicity.  They understood they were all bound together by a common humanity.  For a truly democratic and free Kosovo we need that spirit to prevail as it is at this moment throughout your country.  And we -- we are hopeful that it will, because it is the key, in my view, to your further recognition and survival.
Kosovo confronts many challenges, but you do not stand alone.  The United States and the international community are committed to your success.  As you know, I've just come from Belgrade.  I told Serbia's leaders that U.S. support for the independent and sovereign Kosovo remains steadfast.  And I urged them to find ways to cooperate to improve the welfare of all the people of Kosovo.  I discussed the steps they can take to strengthen their cooperation with EULEX.  I asked them to encourage Kosovo's Serbs to participate in Kosovo institutions, instead of pursuing parallel governing arrangements that obstruct constructive engagement among Kosovo's ethnic communities.
I urged Serbia's leaders to end their trade embargo against Kosovo.  And I told them that Kosovo cannot be divided.  It cannot be divided.  (Applause.)
The United States remains committed to Kosovo through NATO's KFOR mission, which continues to play a critically important role in helping secure peace and stability.  The women and men of the many allied and partner nations serving here in Kosovo in my view deserve tremendous praise.  President Obama and I, we are grateful for KFOR's work and especially proud of the U.S. contingent commanding a multi-national task force.  Under NATO's supervision and training, Kosovo is building security institutions, including most importantly Kosovo's security force to meet NATO standards and opening them to all Kosovo ethnic communities. I look forward to the day when Kosovo can contribute to international peacekeeping missions. 
The European Union is playing a critical role in ensuring Kosovo's future as a multi-ethnic democracy and ultimately its future in Europe.  So I applaud the efforts of the international civilian representative, Mr. Feith, and the office he leads to help Kosovo carry out the commitments made for the protection of minority rights here in Kosovo. 
And I salute the United Nations in its role over the last decade in helping establish Kosovo institutions. With Kosovo independence it is now appropriate that the United States reconfigure and draw down its mission, as recommended by the Secretary General. 
As a senator, when I first sought to bring the world's attention to this region, a diplomat -- who I will not mention -- warned me, saying, "Don't dream dreams, Senator."  When people told you a free and independent Kosovo would never happen, you did as I did -- you did not listen to that admonition.  (Applause.)
And you, like me, continued to dream dreams.  And so did your people.  As a public official and as a politician I remain optimistic.  I have to dream to give people the vision for a better tomorrow.  You must continue to dream of a nation that is whole, free, and multi-ethnic, and strong, and finally, for the first time in history, integrated into the European mainstream.
I'm optimistic about your country.  And quite frankly, in spite of all the difficulties that exist, I remain optimistic about the region.  I think this is one of those points in history where we may be able to shed hundreds of years -- hundreds of years -- of past animosities and begin to move into the 21st century.  I believe in your effort to create a modern state, one that can propel all its citizens toward a common European future.  This is the future for all communities in Kosovo.  This is the future reflected in the thousands of signatures on the newborn monument downtown, a monument to hope and to expectations.
You've only just begun.  This is a future that will be determined by each one of you in this chamber today and throughout Kosovo.  Your children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will look to you -- look to you -- as the people who made the final turn after centuries of division.
Ladies and gentlemen, take pride in what you've accomplished.  Keep your patience and persistence and insist that you not give up on what has never fully existed here before -- a truly multi-ethnic democracy.  Take heart -- take heart for the hard work ahead.  And take confidence that the United States of America will be with you, a free and independent Kosovo, every step of the way, every step you take.  (Applause.)
Ladies and gentlemen, once again I thank you for the honor, I'm proud to be associated with you.  And I am incredibly optimistic about your future.
Thank you so very much.  (Applause.)